These days alcohol flows much more freely in Cherokee County than when I was growing up and we were a “dry” county.
But for those who want to purchase a bottle of distilled alcohol, the choices of where it is legally sold come down to just the cities of Holly Springs, Ball Ground and Woodstock.
In the unincorporated areas in Cherokee County and in the city of Canton the sale of packaged liquor is still prohibited, although liquor is sold by the drink and beer and wine package sales are allowed.
In those days when we were a totally dry county that didn’t mean alcohol was not sold and consumed. Far from it.
We had a split personality, with a strong religious community that held all spirits were bad and consumption of them helped pave the road to hell, but plenty of folks who, when they were in their own homes, relished a strong glass of whiskey.
Cherokee County’s history of making corn whiskey is a long and rich one. While folks might have brewed a little wine or liquor to drink or sell to neighbors and friends in the early days, it was Prohibition in the 1920s that turned it into a flourishing industry.
Cherokee County had some of the most successful moonshiners in the entire state, including John Henry Hardin of the Sutallee community, who became known as the Moonshine King.
The name “moonshiners” was brought over from with our ancestors from Great Britain. Those who came across the Atlantic from Scotland, Ireland and Wales brought many traditions, which included the love of making and drinking whiskey.
Over in the British Isles, those who smuggled in brandy from France did it by the light of the moon, and the drink they brought in earned the name moonshine. Those who smuggled it were called moonlighters.
Here in North Georgia and throughout Appalachia, those returning from the Civil War were greeted by the imposition of excise tax on their moonshine, causing them to go underground.
Anyone who cooked moonshine did it at night. Thousands of recipes evolved, with each family having their own special way to turn cornmeal mash into white lightning.
Moonshine cookers would use elaborate copper pots to add sugar, corn, barley and malt into the mix.
A recipe that made its way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park calls for an 80-gallon still, a 60-gallon barrel, one-half bushel of malt made from sprouted corn that was dried and ground, four bushels of ground corn, and one-bushel of rye ground course.
Directions include mixing the ingredients together, placing them in the barrel and filling it with water and allowing it to ferment for 18 days.
To have enough corn to make moonshine, many farmers measured it by the barrel, not the bushel.
In the late 1800s and early 1990s, moonshiners became more accepted and many of the key ones where local business owners, farmers and leaders in the churches and communities.
Hardin was one of the most legendary and notorious, and he ran his empire from a series of farms he owned or rented along the Etowah River in the Laughingal area of Sutallee.
This was in the days before Allatoona Lake was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hardin bought a large tract of land n 1906 in the community and built a home, a gristmill, a general store and a dining hall. He grew corn in the rich bottomlands and corn on the higher ground.
He was a steward, Sunday school teacher and led the singing at Sixes Methodist Church.
But one year, around 1917, there was an unusual amount of rainfall and the bottomlands flooded, the story goes.
His corn crop soured, and he faced almost sure financial ruin. But a worker on Hardin’s farm suggested he grind up the sour corn and use it to make mash for whiskey.
Before long he was operating 100 stills and producing thousands of gallons of moonshine each year. He was purchasing moonshine from his neighbors as well, which he sold to bootleggers and haulers.
By the late 1920s, he was believed to be the biggest producer of moonshine in the state of Georgia.
But as the years went on, tragedy came to John Henry Hardin’s door.
John Henry’s son Paul, along with his wife and four young children were found dead in their home in 1932, a tragedy ruled a murder-suicide. They are buried at Stamp Creek cemetery.
For the next 10 years after his son’s death, Hardin was in and out of prison close to 20 times. He died in 1943, poor and broken.
The moonshine tradition in Cherokee County, though, continued into the early 1970s, and everyone around knew there was moonshine in our hills and in many cupboards in Cherokee County.